Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
A friend began a grosbeak/waxwing trek a few days ago, beginning in Chisago County and working his way west to Wadena and Todd counties. He keeps lists by county, and this being an exceptional year for sightings of Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings, off he went from his Rochester home. Lots of miles, yes, but he had a good time.
I’ve been waiting for the waxwings to appear close to the metro area. Friend Bob found them in Kanabec County, which is pretty close. I figured it was worth a chance and some driving. I headed north on Highway 169, skipping Elk River and Princeton as search sites, beginning a block-by-block canvas for ornamental crab apple trees in Milaca. Both the grosbeaks and the waxwings are most easily found in those trees, feeding on apples.
I found Pine Grosbeaks in Milaca, Garrison, and Aitkin. I found a pair of Bohemian Waxwings in Garrison. The waxwings were birds of the day for me. They were sharing an apple tree with grosbeaks, the tree in the front yard of a house. That’s where you find ornamental crabs. Pointing cameras at people’s houses, uninvited, poses the obvious risk. But if you get out of the car to ask permission, the birds could be put to flight. Ask permission or apologize? The old question. I took half a dozen quick shots from the street, then pulled into the driveway to explain myself. The lady of the house said, sure, take photos. No problem. When I left her front steps the waxwings flew away.
The apple orchard near our home where I look two or three times a week for those birds was full of robins this morning, dozens of them. It’s the first time I’ve found any birds there for a couple of weeks. I’ll keep checking. Carlson Parkway, as it passes the west side of the Carlson Towers near the intersection of I-394 and I-494 in Minnetonka, is lined with ornamental crab apple trees, a quarter mile of bird potential. I’ll keep an eye on those, too. My waxwing pictures were not as good as I want. I need to find more of those birds.
Here is the pair of Garrison waxwings. Bohemians differ from Cedar Waxwings in subtle ways, the white patches on the wings the most obvious mark. If you look closely at the bird on the right you can see one of those white wing marks.
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